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'Summer of the Shark in 2001 more hype than fact, new numbers show

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Despite Time magazine labeling it the Summer of the Shark and the prevailing perception that 2001 was a banner year for shark attacks, actual numbers were slightly down, a new University of Florida study shows.

The annual total of 76 unprovoked attacks worldwide was less than the 85 recorded in 2000, and fatalities declined from 12 to five in the same period, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, which is housed at the University of Florida.

The file is a record of all known shark attacks. Burgess, a biological scientist and operations coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, reports the numbers annually and has just finished compiling them.

Last year was anything but an average year, but thats because it was more like the summer of the media feeding frenzy, he said.

The number of attacks remained nearly identical in both the United States (55 in 2001 compared with 54 the previous year) and Florida, the nations leader, where they decreased from 38 to 37, Burgess said.

But a few high-profile cases turned an otherwise slow news summer on its head. It began with the dramatic rescue of 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast, whose arm was severed by a bull shark in the waters off Pensacola, Fla., on the weekend after the Fourth of July, he said.

Burgess, who normally handles about 300 inquiries a year from newspapers and radio and television stations on sharks, did more than 900 interviews during July, August and September. I had more calls in those three months than I had in the previous three years combined, he said. Some of them were from radio shows in places like Montana, North Dakota and Idaho, where there hasnt been a shark since the Miocene.

International press coverage also was heavy because Florida is a popular destination for tourists from Western Europe and Japan.

After saving his nephew in the July 6 attack, Arbogasts uncle pulled the shark to
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Contact: George Burgess
gburgess@flmnh.ufl.edu
352-392-1721
University of Florida
18-Feb-2002


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